[Prologue: In May of 2001, I drafted a short article from a place of incredible gratitude. Looking back the feeling has stayed with me pretty much since then. In fact, it has grown in both depth and expanse for me. Due to some quirk of logistics, the article was never published. It was filed as if it had been published but I checked and it never has been. It has been sitting in a folder for 12½ years! In discovering it I thought it would make a good choice for leading off the New Year. Here it is, just as I drafted it in 2001.]
As I was walking through the North Beach District of San Francisco this afternoon I felt a huge wave of gratitude come over me. Recently I have been meditating as I walk, deepening my experience of surrender. It seems that surrender is a lifelong endeavor – at least for me – and I’m quite sure the gratitude that washed over me today and the practice of surrendering are very much related.
As I basked in this wondrous feeling of gratitude, I felt another wave of emotion – or maybe it was complete experience, not mere emotion. The experience was of love. It was my love for others I was experiencing (not of being loved) and I felt extremely grateful for having this ability.
The next thing I knew, I was in the midst of profound appreciation for this gift – this ability to love others. It wasn’t the kind of love that one feels for someone they want something from, like loving a friend because they treat you so well. Or, loving a relative because they were born into the same family. Or, loving a partner because they filled some void you felt when you were on your own. This kind of love transcended any quid pro quo benefits. This kind of love did not require anything from anyone. It was a very pure form of love, quite clean and unadulterated – like the “essence of God.” Or perhaps I was experiencing what writers describe as “unconditional love.”
I thought about several people for whom I have this kind of love – this love that does not require a like-kind return. In the past, I thought of this kind of love as tragic, like the ideal of romantic love that riddles our culture, our mythology and our movies – that unrequited love of the Knights of the Roundtable, and Camelot. People talk about it with such sadness – that a man could love a maiden so much without his love being returned, like love is supposed to be some kind of a bargain struck by two hearts which feel incomplete without the other.
In sharp contrast to the way I used to think about this experience, I was now feeling enormous appreciation – intense gratitude for the gift God has given me to experience this magnitude of love for another being. Not only have I been blessed with this remarkable gift, but I have also been blessed with several people whom I love in this way – people with whom I make no pretense, people whom I love regardless of what they do or how they behave, people who I appreciate fully just the way they are.
As I continued walking while all this wonder was unfolding within me, I thought of these people, and hurried home to let each of them know just how blessed I feel for this God-given gift of loving them in this way.
[Epilogue: In the years that have followed that euphoric day in 2001, unconditional love has become more the norm than the exception in my life. I feel over-the-top-blessed with so many people for whom I feel this way and for so many people who feel this way toward me. It makes one feel not only blessed and grateful but enormously privileged to be a living human being!]